DES MOINES, Iowa — A divided Iowa Supreme Court on Thursday reset the way criminals are charged in the state in a ruling celebrated by prosecutors but criticized by defense attorneys and some members of the court as ignoring its own precedent set just seven years ago.
The court ruled Thursday in cases involving three Waterloo men charged with sexual abuse after they were accused of drugging and raping two 15-year-old girls.
The men, Deantay Williams, Taevon Washington and Cordarrel Smith were questioned by officers and DNA samples were taken after the girls said in June 2012 that they were assaulted in a house police learned was a gang hangout. The men were not charged until DNA lab results were returned in November 2013, more than 500 days later.
The Iowa Court of Appeals in November 2015 ordered charges dismissed saying the men were not charged within the 45 days of their arrests as required by Iowa law. The court based its opinion on a December 2010 Iowa Supreme Court case that concluded an arrest is made when a person is physically detained and a reasonable person would believe an arrest occurred. The court considered the men arrested in June 2012 when they were questioned and DNA samples were taken and concluded charges filed more than a year later were too late.
The Supreme Court ruled in the 4-3 opinion filed Thursday to overturn its 2010 opinion and rule that an arrest occurs in Iowa when a defendant is taken into custody and appears before a magistrate judge.
Chief Justice Mark Cady in the majority opinion said Iowa was the only state that used the moment of arrest as the time from which charges must be filed in order to meet constitutional requirements of a speedy indictment. Iowa’s practice has been wrong, Cady said, acknowledging that the court made a mistake in 2010 and must correct it.
“Once the arrested person is before the magistrate, the arrest process is complete, the person is no longer under the control of the arresting officer, and all the rights under the law available to defendants become applicable, including the right to a probable-cause preliminary hearing and the right to a speedy indictment,” he said.
Justice David Wiggins disagreed in a dissenting opinion.
“What the majority does today is overrule a prior decision with which they disagree in order to advance their own view of the law,” he said.
The court reinstated the charges against the Waterloo men who now will face trial on sexual assault and kidnapping.
Williams’ attorney, Cory Goldensoph, said he believes his client to be innocent and says he has a good chance of acquittal. He said the prior way of handling charges and indictments was fair. Attorneys for Washington and Smith did not immediately respond to messages.
The decision was welcomed by prosecutors who said the 2010 case resulted in many case dismissals because it was legally unclear when an individual was considered formally arrested.
“The problem with the way the law was until this morning is you create this perverse incentive for law enforcement to move forward because law enforcement is worried that the clock is ticking for a speedy indictment before an investigation is complete,” said Alan R. Ostergren who filed a friend of the court brief for the Iowa County Attorneys Association, a group of county prosecutors.